Just as IATA’s General Meeting convenes in Miami this week and insiders expect further developments in the continuing Open Skies dispute between the three leading U.S. carriers (AA, DL, UA), and their counterparts in the Middle East (EK, EY, QR) the French government has awarded Qatar CEO, Akbar Al Baker, the prestigious Legion D'Honneur (Legion of Honour) award for his leadership in the aviation industry and for spearheading Qatar Airways to be a leading global airline.
By extending the legion of Honour to Mr Al Baker, the French government has made it abundantly clear that, although it holds a significant stake in flag carrier Air France, it is putting the
(economic) interests of the country above those of Air France-KLM, which together with Lufthansa, has been complaining about the growing competition from the Gulf carriers - including Qatar
Airways. Qatar Airways earlier received permission to expand its network to the French cities of Lyon and Nice.
Ironically, Mr Al Baker was informed last week by Dutch state secretary Wilma Mansveld that his airline will not be allowed further services to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport under a temporary ban on extra landing rights for Gulf airlines, ahead of internal discussions about the issue by the European Commission (CargoForwarder Global reported).
Ms Mansveld has been criticised by political parties and several organisations in The Netherlands for her "hasty and unnecessary" ban, which is likely to hurt the Dutch economy.
EY strengthens its partnership with AF-KL
Adding further to the ironic developments is today's announcement by Etihad Airways that it has reached a deal to deepen its strategic partnership with Air France-KLM. Etihad's chief executive James Hogan said that Etihad and Air France-KLM will share codes on more flights this year, opening more European cities to the Abu Dhabi-based airline’s customers.
The moves reflect Etihad’s strategy to grow its route map through airline partnerships. With code shares on French domestic flights imminent, Etihad also is looking to add destinations via code shares with Philippine Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Malaysia Airlines, Hogan said on the sidelines of the IATA annual meeting.
Kevin Knight, Etihad’s chief strategy and planning officer, said that Etihad hopes to expand its code share with Air France-KLM "as broadly as possible." The Gulf carrier currently lists its flight code on nine Air France cities and 21 KLM destinations, while it also closely cooperates with the French-Dutch carrier in cargo.
Nol van Fenema